As we all know, the Social Security Administration has a lengthy and complex process to determine a claimant’s eligibility to receive disability benefits. They weigh many different factors, including whether or not a claimant speaks English. The purpose for this consideration is to gauge communication skills in order to determine the claimant’s employability. If the claimant is LED (Limited English Proficient), or in other words speaks, reads, writes, or understands little to no English, that could make it difficult for that claimant to find any employment.

So does this mean that just because it is hard for a non-English speaker to find a job they should automatically be given disability benefits? Of course not, and that is not the case currently. When SSA determines eligibility for benefits, they evaluate a claimant’s capacity for employment or “substantial gainful activity.” To do this, SSA must consider more than just communication skills. The primary factors considered are income level and physical and/or mental impairments affecting employment. Therefore, not being able to communicate in English does not make you disabled and will not automatically qualify you to receive disability benefits.

Currently, there is a proposed change to eliminate the inability to communicate in English from the list of educational factors that are considered when determining vocational ability. If this proposed change is passed, the inability to communicate in English will no longer be a consideration when determining employability. This would mean that the only way for communication to be considered a vocational limitation would be if the claimant were illiterate.

The reason for this proposed change is the inaccurate thought that if you cannot effectively communicate in English you will automatically qualify for disability benefits. However, this is not the case. Communication skills are not the only factor that is considered when determining education levels. Other factors include reasoning skills and arithmetical ability.

So, the question is not whether non-English speakers should qualify for disability. The question is, should the inability to communicate in English be a factor that is considered when determining a claimant’s employability?

We’ll have to stand by to see if this proposal is approved and if that makes the process of being granted disability benefits even harder.